Stevenage MP calls for changes to Universal Credit but does not rebel against government in parliamentary debate

Stevenage MP Stephen McPartland

Stevenage MP Stephen McPartland - Credit: Archant

Stevenage MP Stephen McPartland is continuing to press for the government to make changes to its new Universal Credit benefits system – but like his fellow Conservatives did not vote to delay its roll-out in an Opposition Day debate forced by the Labour Party last week.

There was a crucial Commons debate in the House of Commons on Wednesday.

There was a crucial Commons debate in the House of Commons on Wednesday. - Credit: Archant

Mr McPartland, who was re-elected MP for the third term at this year’s General Election, previously led a rebellion against tax credit cuts.

Recently he – along with other Conservatives including Heidi Allen, representing South Cambs – have been calling on Chancellor Philip Hammond to rethink parts of the new Universal Credit system ahead of the Autumn budget.

The new system is being rolled out gradually across the UK. Labour MPs staged a debate and vote in the Commons last week, calling on the government to pause the roll-out lest it cause hard-hit families to lose out.

The opposition gets 20 days for each parliamentary session to set the agenda for parliamentary debate.

Conservative MPs routinely abstain from any votes held on these occasions and they duly did this time round. In the end 299 MPs voted to delay Universal Credit, but opposition day business is not binding on the government.

Mr McPartland told the Comet he is more than happy to vote against the government where it is the right thing to do but this was not the moment to do it as any vote would not have been binding and he is opposed to certain aspects of Universal Credit and doesn’t want it delayed.

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But shadow work and pensions secretary Debbie Abrahams said the vote was “a major defeat for the government on their flagship welfare reform programme”, but condemned the Tory MPs for abstaining on the issue.

As reported last week in the Guardian newspaper, Mr McPartland has said he is trying to persuade Mr Hammond to lower the so-called ‘taper rate’ on Universal Credit to encourage people receiving in-work benefits to increase their hours at work without seeing so much of their additional pay taxed.

Mr Hammond gave in to pressure from Conservative MPs at the Autumn statement last year, and reduced the taper rate from 65 per cent to 63 per cent – but Mr McPartland and others want the rate reduced further.

The Stevenage MP said: “The taper rate on Universal Credit is 63 pence in the pound. This is an outrageous tax rate of 63 per cent on net earnings for some on the lowest incomes.

“The chancellor needs to look at this again in the budget, as it simply cannot be justified. It is a barrier to encouraging people to work more hours, as they only keep a few pennies for every extra pound they earn.”

Many Conservative and Labour MPs have expressed concern about the gradual introduction of Universal Credit because critics say the system is too complex and leads to delays of up to six weeks in payments once a claim has been made.

Universal Credit sees six previous benefits rolled into one – Child Tax Credit, Housing Benefit, Income Support, Jobseeker’s Allowance, Working Tax Credit and Employment and Support Allowance.

It was supposed to be in place by 2017, but has been continually delayed and is now expected to be available to all only in 2022.